Olga Campbell is raising money for the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre’s anti-racism programming. (photo from Olga Campbell)
Half of all sales during March of Olga Campbell’s multiple-award-winning A Whisper Across Time: My Family’s Story of the Holocaust Told Through Art and Poetry will be donated to the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre’s anti-racism programming, engaging youth and teachers in promoting human rights, social justice and genocide awareness. Campbell’s goal is to raise $5,000. Her objective is to raise “concerns about the fragility of democracy and the rise of white nationalism, racism and antisemitism in the world today.”
In A Whisper Across Time, Campbell – whose mother lost all of her family during the Second World War – writes, “This is the story of one family out of millions of families who went through the Holocaust.”
As quoted in the Jewish Independent when the book was published in 2019, “It is ‘the story of survival and death,’ ‘of how trauma of such magnitude is passed from one generation to another to another….’ It is also an ardent call for readers to remember Rwanda, Rohingya, Bosnia, Syria, Afghanistan, Sudan, Iraq, Cambodia.” Campbell notes in the book that, “by the end of 2016, there were 65.6 million refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people in the world.” She pleads, “eighty years ago, the world looked away / we must not look away now.” (Read more at jewishindependent.ca/a-story-told-in-art-and-poetry and jewishindependent.ca/whisper-across-time.)
Campbell will be giving away five signed copies of her book. Everyone who wins or buys a book before the end of March will also receive a signed miniature print – images from the book.
Winners of the book giveaway will be announced on March 21, which is the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
Rabbi Dr. Yosef Wosk speaks at a Vancouver Public Library event in 2017. (photo by Cynthia Ramsay)
The Order of Canada is one of our country’s highest civilian honours. Its companions, officers and members take to heart the motto of the order: “Desiderantes meliorem patriam” (“They desire a better country”).
Created in 1967, the Order of Canada recognizes outstanding achievement, dedication to the community and service to the nation. Appointments are made by the governor general on the recommendation of the Advisory Council for the Order of Canada. This year, among the 114 new appointees, are Vancouver Jewish community members Dr. Carol Herbert and Rabbi Dr. Yosef Wosk. Each recipient will be invited to accept their insignia at a ceremony to be held at a later date.
Herbert was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada for her contributions to the fields of clinical and academic medicine, as a family physician, medical educator, researcher and administrator. She and three colleagues were appointed.
“The appointment of Drs. B. Lynn Beattie, Joseph Connors, Carol Herbert and Roger Wong to the Order of Canada is a demonstration of their incredible commitment to the health and well-being of all Canadians,” said Dr. Dermot Kelleher, dean of the University of British Columbia’s faculty of medicine and vice-president, health, at UBC, said in a press release. “We are very proud of each of their contributions, and deeply moved by their passion for improving the lives of patients and families here in B.C., and across the nation.”
Herbert, an adjunct professor in the School of Population and Public Health, “is internationally known for her leadership in primary care research, and for her work in clinical health promotion, patient-physician decision-making, and participatory action research with Indigenous communities, focused on diabetes and on environmental effects on human health,” notes the UBC release. “She was formerly head of the department of family practice, founding head of the division of behavioural medicine and a founder of the UBC Institute of Health Promotion Research.”
This only touches on Herbert’s extensive experience. She also was dean of medicine and dentistry at Western University in London, Ont., from 1999 to 2010, was a practising family physician from 1970 to 2013, and has been involved in medical education since 1971.
Yosef Wosk, PhD, was appointed Officer of the Order of Canada for his far-reaching contributions to his community as a scholar, educator and writer, and for his generous philanthropy. BC Booklook (bcbooklook.com/2020/11/27/41941) cites the governor general: “Yosef Wosk is a Renaissance man of the 21st century. A rabbi, scholar, businessman and art collector, he is a revered educator and community activist who inspired many to become engaged in global issues and local challenges. Former director of interdisciplinary programs in continuing studies at Simon Fraser University, he founded the Philosophers’ Café and the Canadian Academy of Independent Scholars. A poet, explorer and dedicated philanthropist involved with museums, the arts, social services, publishing, nature and heritage conservation, he has endowed hundreds of libraries worldwide.”
Wosk has established more than 400 libraries, including 20 libraries in remote Himalayan villages and 37 in Jewish communities throughout the world. (See jewishindependent.ca/many-milestones-for-wosk-in-2019.) He has supported a range of local building preservation, public garden and other civic enhancement projects. He has helped fund the production of more than 250 books and videos, and has written numerous works, most recently Memories of Jewish Poland: The 1932 Photographs of Nachum Tim Gidal and the forthcoming GIDAL: The Letters of Tim Gidal and Yosef Wosk (Douglas & McIntyre, 2021). He supports several literature, writing, poetry, art and design initiatives, and is founding benefactor of the Dance Centre.
In addition to other honours, Wosk has received the Queen’s Golden and Diamond Jubilee Medals and a Mayor’s Arts Award, as well as the Order of British Columbia.
As part of its belief in and commitment to supporting emerging architecture practitioners, the Arthur Erickson Foundation and the Yosef Wosk Family Foundation recently announced a $110,000 donation to Indspire – Canada’s national, award-winning Indigenous registered charity – in support of Indigenous youth in Canada. The donation will fund an awards program focused on increasing Indigenous student success by growing the number of Indigenous architects and landscape architects in Canada.
Central to Arthur Erickson’s work as an architect and theorist was his belief in and commitment to education and research. Having served on the faculties of architecture at the University of Oregon and the University of British Columbia, Erickson understood the need of each generation to contribute to the training of the next. One of the ways the foundation honours Erickson’s belief is by working with donors to develop prizes and scholarships intended to reward and assist students studying architecture and landscape architecture.
“The Arthur Erickson Foundation and Yosef Wosk Family Foundation, along with Indspire, are pleased to announce the establishment of an awards program supporting Indigenous education in architecture and landscape architecture,” said Michael Prokopow, vice-president (East) Arthur Erickson Foundation. “The organizations recognize the profound importance of the shared work of decolonization and reconciliation in Canada for the transformation of society. These awards recognize the deep power of Indigenous thinking and wisdom around the making of habitation and space for well-being across generations and the vitally important stewardship of the natural world.”
Mike DeGagné, president and chief executive officer of Indspire, stated, “This new investment is a significant step in supporting First Nations, Inuit and Métis architecture and landscape architecture students to achieve their potential through education and training. They can in turn enrich their communities and create positive change in Canada. We are grateful for the support of the Arthur Erickson Foundation and the Yosef Wosk Family Foundation for investing in Indigenous achievement and education.”
Simon Fraser University Gerontology Research Centre (GRC) founder Dr. Gloria Gutman and her team – Avantika Vashisht, Taranjot Kaur, Mojgan Karbakhsh, Ryan Churchill and Amir Moztarzadeh – received the Best Paper Award at the International Conference on Gerontechnology, held Nov. 25-27. SFUGero tweeted the news Dec. 1, noting that the paper was a “[f]easibility study of a digital screen-based calming device for managing BPSD [behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia] during bathing in a long-term care setting.”
A brief biography for Gutman, PhD, appears on the conference website. She is president of the North American chapter of the International Society for Gerontechnology, vice-president of the International Longevity Centre-Canada, past-president of the Canadian Association on Gerontology and the International Association of Gerontology and Geriatrics. She is co-editor (with Andrew Sixsmith) of Technologies for Active Aging (Springer, 2013) and has published widely on seniors housing, long-term care, health promotion, prevention of elder abuse, and seniors and disasters. She is on the advisory of MindfulGarden Digital Health and is the principal investigator on the first feasibility clinical studies for MindfulGarden, which is a digital treatment of hyperactive dementia in long-term care setting. She established the GRC and department of gerontology at SFU and is recipient of many awards and honours, including the Order of Canada.
The third edition of the Western Canada Jewish Book Awards, presented by the Cherie Smith JCC Jewish Book Festival in Vancouver, took place Dec. 6. Daniella Givon, chair of the awards committee, opened the evening on Zoom and the five honours were awarded by five different presenters.
Winning the Nancy Richler Memorial Prize for Fiction was Rhea Tregebov for Rue des Rosiers, in which a young Canadian woman’s search for her own identity brings her to Paris in 1982, and face-to-face with the terror of an age-old enemy. Tregebov (Vancouver) is the author of fiction, poetry and children’s picture books. She is associate professor emerita in the University of British Columbia creative writing program.
The Pinsky Givon Family Prize for nonfiction went to Naomi K. Lewis for Tiny Lights for Travellers. When her marriage suddenly ends, and a diary documenting her beloved Opa’s escape from Nazi-occupied Netherlands in the summer of 1942 is discovered, Lewis decides to retrace his journey to freedom. Lewis (Calgary) is the author of the novel Cricket in a Fist and the short story collection I Know Who You Remind Me Of.
Ellen Schwartz was awarded the Diamond Foundation Prize for children’s and youth literature for The Princess Dolls, a story about friendship between a Jewish girl and a Japanese girl, set against the backdrop of 1942 Vancouver. Schwartz (Burnaby) is the author of 17 children’s books, including Abby’s Birds and Mr. Belinsky’s Bagels.
The Lohn Foundation Prize for poetry was given to Alex Leslie for Vancouver for Beginners. In this collection, the nostalgia of place is dissected through the mapping of a city, where readers are led past surrealist development proposals, post-apocalyptic postcards and childhood landmarks long gone. Leslie (Vancouver) is the author of two short story collections and the winner of the 2015 Dayne Ogilvie Prize for LGBTQ Emerging Writers.
The Kahn Family Foundation Prize for writing about the Holocaust was given to Olga Campbell for A Whisper Across Time, a personal and moving story of her family’s experience of the Holocaust through prose, art and poetry, creating a multi-dimensional snapshot of losses and intergenerational trauma. Campbell is a visual artist whose media include photography, sculpture, mixed media painting and digital photo collage.
The jury for the 2020 Western Canada Jewish Book Awards comprised Shula Banchik, arts and culture manager of the Calgary JCC; Judy Kornfeld, former librarian at Langara College; Els Kushner, author and librarian; Norman Ravvin, writer, critic and Concordia University professor; and Laurie Ricou, professor emeritus of English at UBC.
After short acceptance speeches and readings from the authors, Dana Camil Hewitt, director of the JCC Jewish Book Festival, concluded the evening thanking the sponsors, the judges, the awards committee and the extended virtual audience, and inviting everyone to purchase and enjoy the books.
“Resistance” by Dorothy Doherty. Part of the Beyond the Surface exhibition now on at the Zack Gallery until Sept. 8. (photo from gallery)
The Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver has opened its doors again, at least partially, and the Sidney and Gertrude Zack Gallery is presenting a new exhibition, Beyond the Surface. Art lovers can make appointments to tour the show in person. It features five local artists – Janice Beaudoin, Olga Campbell, Dorothy Doherty, Jane McDougall and Ellen Pelto – and the Jewish Independent interviewed them recently by email about their art, and how the pandemic has affected them.
“This exhibit was originally scheduled for June 4,” said Campbell. “Because of COVID, it was a bit late. It was hung on June 18, and the virtual opening through Zoom was on July 8.”
Last year, the five artists attended a five-day workshop in Victoria led by California artist Michael Shemchuk, though some of them had met before then.
“Dorothy and I have been friends for 45 years,” said Pelto. “I met her in a clay class she was instructing. I’ve also known Olga for eight years.”
“I met Olga Campbell in various art workshops in Vancouver and then spent five years on campus with her at Capilano College between 2008 and 2014,” said Doherty. “We took some classes together and worked independently in others, all the while growing in friendship.”
Doherty, who has taken Shemchuk’s workshops several times over the years, met McDougall and Beaudoin at one or another of those sessions. And Shemchuk’s teaching, especially on the paper layering technique, has been instrumental in the birth of this Zack show.
“A couple of us thought that it would be interesting to show some of the work that we had created in his workshop,” Campbell recalled. “We thought that five [artists] would be a good number to demonstrate the cohesiveness of the art, as a result of us all using the same techniques, but also showcase each of our individual styles.”
Doherty came up with the title, Beyond the Surface. She said the rest of the group quickly agreed. “I think the word surface resonated with us because we all do unique surface treatments,” she said. “Surface is really important in art and in life, but we always want people to look beyond appearances – learn about people and artwork in greater depth.”
To produce the works, the artists manipulated a surface in many ways. They layered, sanded, abraded and painted it; even cut into it to reveal what lay beneath.
Beaudoin elaborated: “Beyond the Surface is the ideal name for this show, as the technique we all used is based on the process of layering paper and paint. As we add and subtract paint and materials by sanding or scraping, each artist makes decisions about what elements to reveal and what to hide. The final surface is one that often appears aged and somewhat mysterious, providing the viewer with enticing glimpses of things that are hidden beneath the surface and leaving them to wonder what has been covered.”
In a way, this show’s unusual story echoes its title as well. While a traditional vernissage is an event where art connoisseurs mingle inside a gallery, the pandemic forced Zack Gallery director Hope Forstenzer to show and promote the art digitally.
“She did a virtual tour of our show at the JCC,” said Campbell, “and she is also interviewing each of us in our studios live via Zoom, so that people can see our art and have a virtual tour of our studios.”
The artists mused about the changes in their field and in gallery procedures wrought by COVID-19.
“My sense is that pandemic or no pandemic, artists will always make art. The biggest challenge is going to be getting the art out to the world to enjoy,” said Beaudoin. “There is always a basic human desire to stand before a work of art in person. That is definitely the best way to engage with a painting. However, there is a generation of media savvy younger art buyers who are used to purchasing things by seeing them on a computer screen. I think that galleries that are working to provide virtual viewing options are the ones that will survive. The art world, like all industries, really has no choice but to adapt.
“I also feel that it must be acknowledged that many people still find comfort in seeing art in person. The art world is known for its fun social events – and we know now that the comfort of human contact cannot be fully recreated online. My sense is the future of art shows and museums will be a carefully managed balance of socially distanced in-person viewing and virtual showings.”
“I have been fortunate,” said Campbell. “I continue to meet regularly with three other artists. We create our art at home and then share it with each other on Zoom. With another artist friend, I have been playing Photoshop tennis online. One person sends the other an image, the other person adds another image through Photoshop, and this continues until the piece is finished.… I think that we are in this for the long haul; two years, maybe more. I think that, in the future, art shows will continue in real life – in fact, it is already happening – but I do think that some of the virtual things will remain.”
“It’s hard to say how the pandemic will change exhibition practices in the future,” said Doherty. “I do appreciate all the online exhibits, as there would be no other way to see many of these exhibitions. But I really believe there is no substitute for the gallery system as we know it, with wonderful opening nights and the ability to see the artwork in person. We need that direct exchange of human energy, and the feedback we get from visitors and friends. We need access to art in galleries and to artifacts in museums – it’s how we learn. I have always said, despite my gratitude for online Zoom meetings, that the human experience is not the same. It’s flat instead of three-dimensional. We are looking at screens. We are not looking at the real person. There is no exchange of human energy online. We need direct human contact. That’s what we need to live happy, successful lives.”
For McDougall, the pandemic hasn’t changed much for her. “I think most visual artists are used to working in isolation. My art practice has remained the same,” she said. “Listening to CBC in my studio keeps me up to date on the world and, of course, most of the talk is about COVID. I feel grateful to live in B.C.
“I am generally a positive person and my thoughts reflect that. I think there will be more of an online presence for art,” McDougall continued. “And, like Hope Forstenzer’s example throughout this show, there will be interactive web calls and taped studio visits. Because of that, artists will become more involved in the galleries. Long term, I think the pandemic will pass. Art galleries and museums will always be an important element in education and sharing the past. Nothing will replace the up close and personal view of art.”
Pelto agreed. COVID has changed exhibition practices, she said, and “will inevitably change the future practice of making, exhibiting, buying and selling art. However, people will always need to see art. That will not change. People need to see it to appreciate the scale, proportions, richness of colours and textures, and to feel their evocative response. Some of the positive outcomes include the creation of more and stronger online artistic communities. The online presence increases exposure for artists, and interesting themes will emerge in art that will define the human condition of COVID.”
Beyond the Surface runs until Sept. 8.
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].
Each year, the Eric Hoffer Award presents the da Vinci Eye (named after Leonardo da Vinci) to books with superior cover artwork. Cover art is judged on both content and style and, among this year’s winners is Olga Campbell’s Whisper Across Time: My Family’s Story of the Holocaust Told Through Art and Poetry (Jujabi Press). The book is still being considered for category, press and grand prizes.
Whisper Across Time also won the Ippy Award for independent self-published authors. Campbell’s book was selected as one of the 2019 Independent Publisher Book Awards’ Outstanding Books of the Year under the freedom fighter category. Campbell planned on attending the May 28 gala event in New York.
Julia Ivanova’s National Film Board documentary Limit is the Sky saw its Toronto première on May 2 in the retrospective of the largest documentary film festival in North America, Hot Docs. Ivanova is one of only three directors from British Columbia who have received a Focus On retrospective at Hot Docs since 2002 – the others are John Zaritsky and Nettie Wild.
Ivanova, the director, cinematographer and editor of Limit is the Sky is a Russian-Canadian filmmaker. She came to Canada at the age of 30, became a filmmaker in Vancouver and captured Canada from within but with the ability to look at the country from a distance. She has made documentaries for the NFB, CBC, Knowledge Network, played Sundance and won many awards for her films.
The screening of Limit is the Sky, the NFB film about the Fort McMurray boom-bust-fire circle and the winner of the Colin Low Best Canadian Feature Award at DOXA 2017, commemorates the third anniversary since the worst wildfire and the worst natural disaster in Canada’s history devastated the capital of the oil sands. (See jewishindependent.ca/diverse-doxa-festival-offerings.)
The Hot Docs Focus On retrospective of her work includes the world première of her new film, My Dads, My Moms and Me, a film about the joy and turmoil of parenting in the modern family, including same-sex partners, surrogates, adoption and combinations that break the old conventions. The film follows three families, filmed twice, 12 years apart – in 2007 and in 2019.
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More than 250,000 children participated in the Ontario Library Association’s annual Forest of Reading program and have helped choose the best Canadian authors and illustrators. On May 14 and 15, thousands gathered at the annual Festival of Trees, an annual rock concert of reading, hosted at the Harbourfront Centre, where winners of the 2019 Forest of Reading program were announced. Among the books awarded honours was When We Were Shadows by Janet Wees, published by Second Story Press. (For more on Wees and the book, visit jewishindependent.ca/saved-by-dutch-resistance.)
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By Chance Alone: A Remarkable True Story of Courage and Survival at Auschwitz by Max Eisen (HarperCollins) won Canada Reads 2019. The book was championed by TV host and science broadcaster and author Ziya Tong, and was chosen by the five panelists as the book for Canadians to read in 2019. This year’s title fight asked the question: What is the one book to move you?
After four days of debate in front of live audiences, Tong and By Chance Alone survived the final vote to be crowned this year’s winner. The runner-up was Homes by Abu Bakr al Rabeeah and Winnie Yeung (Freehand Books), which was defended by Simple Plan drummer Chuck Comeau. Audiences can catch up on all of the debates on demand on CBC Gem or by downloading the Canada Reads podcast from CBC or iTunes.
“Before 2016, I don’t remember seeing swastikas, but these days I see them often – in the news and on social media. But here’s something even more shocking: one in five Canadian young people have not even heard of the Holocaust. They don’t know what it is, ” said Tong.
This year’s debates took place March 25-28 and were hosted by actor, stand-up comedian and host of CBC Radio’s Laugh Out Loud, Ali Hassan.
Olga Campbell’s acrylic painting “Remembering,” above, and bronze sculpture “Twins II” are just two of many artworks she includes in A Whisper Across Time.
Grief is many-faceted. Sometimes, we’re not even aware for what we’re grieving. One of the most beautiful passages in Olga Campbell’s A Whisper Across Time: My Family’s Story of the Holocaust Told Through Art and Poetry (Jujabi Press, 2018) is the following poem:
“I was born with a very deep sadness / a sadness and an anger / as a child I didn’t question this / it was the way it was / when I got older my mother had cancer / she died when I was twenty-two / I thought that my sadness was caused by her death / I had no idea that it was caused by her life.”
“A Whisper Across Time is a heart-warming, emotional journey that reminds us of the suffering and pain that war, intolerance and persecutions create, not only for those who had to endure atrocities but also for the children of the survivors,” notes Dr. David Lee Sheng Tin, author of two books on spiritual health and growth, in the foreword.
In A Whisper Across Time, Campbell gives clear voice to the whispers in her ear, “whispers across time.”
“This is the story of one family out of millions of families who went through the Holocaust,” writes the artist, whose mother lost all of her family during the Second World War. It is “the story of survival and death,” “of how trauma of such magnitude is passed from one generation to another to another….” It is also an ardent call for readers to remember Rwanda, Rohingya, Bosnia, Syria, Afghanistan, Sudan, Iraq, Cambodia…. “[O]ne of every 113 people on the planet is a refugee,” writes Campbell, noting, “by the end of 2016, there were 65.6 million refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people in the world” and that “racism, antisemitism and ultra-nationalism are on the rise.” She pleads, “eighty years ago, the world looked away / we must not look away now.”
In an interview with the Jewish Independent last November about the exhibit of the same name that helped launch the book, Campbell updated that statistic. “Our world is a chaotic place right now, somewhat reminiscent of the period before the war,” she told writer Olga Livshin. “There are over 68 million people around the world that are refugees or displaced. My book is not only about my family. It is a cautionary tale. It is about intergenerational trauma and its repercussions across time.” (See jewishindependent.ca/whisper-across-time.)
In 2005, Campbell mounted the exhibit Whispers Across Time. “This art show dealt with memories and losses,” she writes in the book. “Many of the pieces in the show were fragmented, partial in appearance, reflecting both a presence and an absence.”
The exhibit featured masks, rusted metal figures, ceramic sculptures, photographs, mixed media and texts that, explains Campbell, “echoed the same theme of loss and regeneration – a life spirit which emerged from the devastation of the past.” Even reduced in size to fit on the pages of a book and taken out of a gallery setting, this artwork is powerful.
In A Whisper Across Time, Campbell shares some of what she has discovered about her mother, Tania, and father, Klimek Dekler, as well as about her maternal grandmother, Ola Akselrod, and her mother’s identical twin sister, Mania, and brother-in-law, who was also an identical twin, but Campbell hasn’t been able to determine which brother – Manasze or Efraim Seidenbeutel – her aunt married. Campbell recounts how her parents met, the atmosphere leading up to the war, and how her parents survived. Her father’s family also survived. There are no records, says Campbell, of what happened to her grandparents or her aunt during the Holocaust; the Seidenbeutel brothers were murdered at Stutthof concentration camp, a few days before it was liberated.
“My mother must have been completely traumatized by her experiences and her losses,” writes Campbell. “She lived and worked and loved, she still danced … sometimes. But the joy in her heart was not so big. The light inside was dim. And, at night, when she was alone in her room, she cried.”
In A Whisper Across Time, Campbell also talks about preparing for the 2005 exhibition, and some of the strange happenings that occurred, such as how multiple attempts to photograph the art failed – a broken camera, saved images that wouldn’t open on the computer. Her use of language, both in poetry and prose, is emotive without being overly sentimental. And her artwork evokes an emotional reaction, often involving some sadness and always demanding contemplation.
For more on Campbell and to purchase A Whisper Across Time, visit olgacampbell.com.
Olga Campbell (seated) takes a break from signing books at the opening of her exhibit A Whisper Across Time, which also served as a launch of her book by the same name. (photo by Gordon E. McCaw)
The impacts of the Holocaust continue to reverberate. Even though most of the first-generation survivors have passed away, the next generations, the survivors’ children and grandchildren, remember.
Local artist Olga Campbell belongs to the second generation. Her parents survived the Holocaust, but her mother’s entire family was murdered by the Nazis. The need to give those family members a voice was Campbell’s driving force in writing her new book, A Whisper Across Time: My Family’s Story of the Holocaust Told Through Art and Poetry. Her solo exhibit with the same name, co-presented with the Cherie Smith JCC Jewish Book Festival, opened at the Zack Gallery on Nov. 15. The night also served as a book launch.
“The art in this show are mostly prints from the book,” she said in an interview with the Independent. “There are also some pieces that are offshoots on the same theme, even though they aren’t in the book.”
Campbell has always known that her mother’s family didn’t survive the war, but the emotional impact of their deaths built slowly over the years. It took decades for this book to emerge.
“In 1997,” she said, “I heard a program on the radio about the second-generation survivors. Their words about the trauma being passed between generations resonated with me.”
She embarked on an artistic journey, and she is still following a path of exploration. Her art reflects her emotional upheaval. Her paintings and statues are fragmented, with broken lines and distorted figures, evoking feelings of loss and anguish. One look at her paintings and a disquiet tension washes over the viewer. It is apparent that a huge tragedy inspired her work.
In 2005, Campbell had a show at the Zack, called Whispers Across Time. “Even then,” she said, “I knew I had to write about my family. The art show was not enough. I had to say more, but, at that time, I couldn’t. I was too raw, too emotional. But my family kept tugging at me. I needed to tell their story. I was compelled to write this book.”
Unfortunately, she knew only the bare bones of her mother’s life. So she plunged into a deep and long research period, surfed the internet, contacted Yad Vashem and other sources. After several years, the book crystallized.
“My book is a tribute to my family, the family I never knew,” she said.
“Of course, it is only one family of the millions of families killed during the Holocaust.”
Campbell spoke of the relevance of her book in today’s political climate. “Our world is a chaotic place right now, somewhat reminiscent of the period before the war,” she said. “There are over 68 million people around the world that are refugees or displaced. My book is not only about my family. It is a cautionary tale. It is about intergenerational trauma and its repercussions across time.”
She created new art for the book, wrote poetry to supplement the imagery, and also included an essay on her family members and their lives, destroyed by the war. The paintings in the book and on the gallery walls are powerful but melancholy, even distressing.
“My work always had this darkness, the sadness, but also a bit of hope,” she said. “I never know what will happen when I start a piece. I’m very intuitive. I would throw some paint on an empty canvas and let my emotions and the art itself guide me through the process. I use photos in my works and digital collages. My finished pieces always surprise me.”
When the book was ready, Campbell applied for another show at the Zack, to coincide with the book launch.
“I wanted to give it the same name as the previous show, Whispers Across Time,” she said, “but I checked the internet, and there are a couple other books already published with the same title. I decided to change it.” The book and the show are called A Whisper Across Time. “I feel a lot lighter now, after the book is finished and published,” she said.
A Whisper Across Time is Campbell’s second publication. In 2009, she published Graffiti Alphabet. She has been doing art for more than 30 years, but that is not how she started her professional career. She was a social worker until, in 1986, she took her first art class. That year changed her life.
“It was such fun. I loved it,” she said. “I went back to work afterwards but it didn’t feel as much fun. I decided to get an art education. I enrolled in Emily Carr when I was 44.”
Campbell finished the art program, continued working part-time as a social worker, and dedicated the rest of her time to painting, sculpture and photography.
“I’ve been a member of the Eastside Culture Crawl for 22 years, since its beginning,” she said. “I participated in the Artists in Our Midst for many years, too. At first, when people asked me, I would say I do art. Now, I say, I’m an artist. I must be. That’s what I do. I’m retired now, but I did art when I was working, too, and it was always very healing and rewarding – still is…. If, for some reason, I don’t paint for awhile, I feel as if something is missing.”
The A Whisper Across Time exhibit continues until Dec. 9. For more about her work and books, visit olgacampbell.com.
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].
Olga Campbell and Larry Green’s shared exhibit at the Zack, Hidden, is on until March 6. (photo by Olga Livshin)
In the new exhibit at Zack Gallery, Hidden, the pieces are united not only by theme but also by media. Both artists featured, Olga Campbell and Larry Green, mostly use photography, which they then play with in Photoshop. The computer-generated effects contribute to the graceful and faintly mystical feel of the images. Hazy silhouettes hide behind the splashes of paint. Eyes peek through the veil of the unknown. Mysterious places and partial faces open the gates of subconscious and let us witness the artists’ creative cores, their emotions.
The images are distinct, echoing each artist’s personality, but the common approach makes their double show almost seem inevitable. And the meshing of their artistic visions spills into life beyond the gallery. Both chose careers in the helping professions, for example. Campbell was a social worker until she retired. Green is a psychotherapist and a professor of psychology. But they didn’t really know each other before the idea of a mutual exhibit took root.
Campbell explained how it happened: “Last year, I participated in Culture Crawl. Linda Lando, the Zack Gallery director, came to see my pieces. She asked me if I wanted to have a show at the Zack Gallery.”
Green added: “I was with Linda that day – we are partners. I remembered Olga’s art from other shows…. I like what she does. Someone suggested we have a show together. That’s how this collaboration started, but, even before that, we were vaguely aware of each other. We saw and admired each other’s art at group shows. We knew many of the same people: friends, neighbors, co-workers.”
After the dates of the exhibit were set, the artists met to decide on the theme. “Larry came up with the Hidden, and I thought it was wonderful,” said Campbell. “There is so much in the world that is hidden. People hide things from others and from themselves, adopting layers of masks and veils. When we put obstacles in the way of seeing the world, we hide not only the shadows, but also the light. When we acknowledge the shadows, then we are able to see the light. Most of the really profound and rewarding things in life are hidden beneath the layers of mystery.”
In Campbell’s pieces, the layers are frequently photographs superimposed upon each other in Photoshop, plus special effects and the occasional addition of multimedia. She admitted that she doesn’t do much pure painting although she studied it.
“I always liked doing art,” she said. “In 1986, I took several art classes and then I thought, what to do with it? So I enrolled in Emily Carr. Afterwards, I worked as a social worker part-time and on my art part-time, until I retired. Art is not a hobby for me. I have to do it.”
Green’s path was a bit different. “I did a lot of art until I was about 25. Then I dropped it for 20 years before starting again, first with pottery and then with other stuff. When I worked with clay, sometimes my hands knew better than my brain what I wanted to say. I made a sculpture and now, years later, I look at it and think: Oh, that’s what I meant. Of course! My brain has caught up with my hands.”
The intuitive application of their skills underlines both artists’ creative courage. They are not afraid to experiment.
“I play around with Photoshop,” said Campbell. “I don’t know it very well. I try different things and I often get something I like by accident. Later, I can’t always reproduce the effect, so I never repeat myself.”
Green concurred. “I like Photoshop,” he said. “I learn it as I go. My ideas pull me through the learning process…. Using Photoshop, I can realize my vision much faster than with paint and canvas, but it is all trial and error. I keep worrying at the piece until something comes along. Or not. If it comes, I go for it. If it doesn’t, I don’t. Some pieces take years to come together. For example, years ago, I saw a single pink running shoe in a park and snapped a photo of it but I didn’t do anything about it. Then, recently, in a different place, I saw a single pink glove, and photographed it. I brought them together in Photoshop, and now they are not lonely.”
Many of Green’s pieces at the Zack are foggy landscapes. “I’ve always been fascinated by fog,” he said. “A foggy landscape has a particular dreamlike quality to it. Shapes are indistinct and, therefore, invite the viewer in, in an attempt to give the scene some definition. Alternately, the viewer can rest in the soft tranquility of the scene rather than be overwhelmed by details…. People who come to me for therapy are often afraid of the fog, especially inside themselves, but they’re also interested in it, in what it might reveal. Everything I do, in both art and psychology, is basically the same: trying to reveal the underlying reality, the hidden connections behind the apparent.”
“The same for me,” Campbell agreed. “Although not everything should be revealed. Some parts of the whole are better hidden, while the essence should be revealed.”
Olga Livshinis a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].